tv Book TV Encore Booknotes CSPAN September 29, 2012 6:00pm-7:00pm EDT
>> nguyen cao ky, former prime minister of south vietnam, author of "buddha's child." you say in your book you were upset with the publisher of one one of your previous books about what you didn't get in or soing d y what you didn't get in, or something, and you had to write this book. what was that all about? >> guest: well, it's just back in 1976, i remember, you know, the fall of vietnam in '75, and so i just come over here. and some friend, you know, introduced me to someone, youo i know, in the publishing industry, and they said they want me to write my story. and they want to do it very g industry. and he said they wan want me to
write my story, and they want me to do it very fast. so i had no idea, you know, at that time about publishing book. so -- because they pay me some money which i couldn't use for -- to buy a business. so i agree. i just met with them two or three gentlemen for just a few hours, you know, and just one time. and after that, you know, they wrote the book. so i can say that it was not real, true story. and that's why now after 27 years, my friends both american vietnamese, they come to me and
said to me, it's time that you tell the vietnam story, vietnam side. >> you were how old when you were prime minister of vietnam, south vietnam, and what years? >> july 1965. >> to what year -- how many years were you prime minister? >> until the election -- the presidential election, 1967. >> and how old were you when you became prime minister? >> i am 34 1/2. 35 years, yes. >> and how old doe does that mae you today? that picture was what -- how old were you in that picture? >> i think this -- maybe 37, you know. i remember that someone, you know, doing -- trying to visit
some country and someone took this picture. 37, yeah. >> as you know, when you walked in, i said to you, how did you do it? how did you -- all these years later almost look the same as you did then? >> yeah. yeah. i am 73 now, and many friends, you know, especially american veteran who met me, they all look at me and said, i think you were general ky, but are you? and i said, yes. how come you stay? and that's why they recognized me. but sometime i have some problem with my, you know, staying young. i remember one time coming back l.a., los angeles, from a trip
overseas. and when i show my passport to the customs service, he look at the passport -- my passport for i think two minute. and then he look at me again, and he asked, your driver license. ok. driver license. and then your green card. ok, green card. behind me a long line of passengers waiting, you know, to have stamp on their passport. so at the end, i asked the gentleman, you read the name? and, yes, yes. you know who am i? and he said, yes, general ky. so what take you so long -- and he said to me very funny, he said, my father served in vietnam, and he -- he's an admirer of general ky. so at home, you know, we have
the picture on the wall, picture of general ky, but it is 35 or 40 years ago. yeah. but now, you know, you look too young. i imagined that, you know, general ky should be some sort of old man, white hair, cannot walk. so i asked him, ok, now you trust me? and he said, ok, now. and he asked me, what is the secret to stay young? >> did you tell him? >> i -- you know, i said, next time, because, you know, too many people waiting. >> let me ask you about your life since 1975 first. when did you come to the united states? under what circumstances? >> i came first to.
why? i stay as a refugee, like other vietnamese refugees. i stayed in camp pendleton for two months. >> california. >> yeah, in california. and then after that, i joined my family here in fair tax, virginia. so we live here for one year. and then one day i was invited by television, you know, showdown l.a., los angeles. so while in l.a., i met with some vietnamese friend. and then they convinced me that california have a better climate and whatever for me.
so we decide to move down there in 1 1976. >> where do you live? >> well, we move around. first, we bought a house in huntington beach. with the money i make from the book. and from the speaking tour. i remember it was only $110,000 at that time, four-bedroom, nice house. i only had to put 10%, $12,000. and then i left huntington beach and then go to live in hong kong for almost three years. >> what years were those? >> 1988 to 1991.
and then when i come back to america, we go to seattle for one year, because my wife, you know, has some -- has some relative in seattle. but after one year, you know, i found out there is too much water in that city, and, you know, i'm a golf player. so i said to my wife, we should go, you know, move back to california. so right now i'm in l.a. in has yenda heights next to the famous chinese temple that the former vice president gore visit during the presidential election.
>> how many children have you had? >> i have seven, four boys and three girl. >> how many times have you been married? >> three. >> how many grandchildren do you have? >> about 16 grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild child. >> and what kind of businesses have you been in since you've been ibeen to the united states? >> well, you know, i just mentioned, you know, with the money from the book and then when i moved to -- from here to california, i went to the bank and opened a new account and put my money. and then, you know, the director, the president, and all the -- you know, the members of
the bank, of course, they recognized me, so they come out and say -- on --, welcome. one of the directorer of that night is in the liquor store, name jack. he's family, you know, own total -- about 60 or 65 liquor store in the area. he's a king of liquor store. so after we become friend. and then he asked me what are my intention, you know. i said, i don't know. i want to have some small business. and then he apprised me. i said, the best small business in l.a. at that time is a liquor store.
and it happened that he owned many, so he said, if you want, i can help to sell you one of my best store. so i said, i'm happy. so i start my exile life, first become a liquor store owner. >> still have the liquor store? is. >> no, no longer. and then after few years, one day the vietnamese down in louisiana, invite me -- in fact, i remember together with the general westmoreland, for a military parade in new orleans. so while there, you know, i met with a few other friends in
american community and some vietnamese fishermen, and so we talk about the fishing business. and then, again, an american banker in new orleans, you know, he suggest to me, well, why don't you come here and help the vietnamese fishermen, you know, and also help us american, you know, to -- to -- to expand and develop the fishing industry? so i said, ok. so three months later, i moved down there, and again, with the help from the local bank, you know, i bought a fishing boat, a
dock, and i become a fisherman. but just for i think a very short period, one year and half. because i was not lucky at that time, you know. i come in -- in at the time that they have the worst season of fishing. we go out day and night, you know, 18 days, 20 days a month, but did not catch much shrimp. so at the end, you know, i asked the bank president that, here, you see, i try my best, but because, you know, no luck, so i
give them back the fishing boat and the dock and everything. >> now, did you actually fish yourself? >> oh, yeah, oh, yeah. i went out, you know, myself, you know. >> did can you actually run the liquor store yourself? >> oh, yes. >> what would people say -- >> of course, with my son and my family. >> what would people say to you when the they would come in andd you in the liquor store who knew who you were? >> many -- i can't tell you an example, you know. one night i was by myself, because, you know, the box boy already went home. so here's a young guy. he's mexican. and he come and he know me. so he said to me, general, i want five case of beer. ok.
i have to go back to the cooler, you know. and seeing that i am going to go back to bring out his beer, and the gentleman said, oh, no, don't. with your permission, let me go and find the beer myself. i said, ok. so he went back to my cooler and, you know, brought out five cases of beer. and so i look at him. oh, you have a big party, a lot of beer. and he said, oh, it's my wedding. and then we talk. and then he said, i served in your country as marine, this and that. so i said to them, well, in that case, to show my gratitude, just have five case beer free for your wedding. so that's the one --
>> did he accept it? >> oh, sure. first he said, no, no, no, but i insist. and then another day when i was there by myself, here a big tourist bus stop in front, you know, and 60 or 70 of them, german, from germany, tourists. so they come to the store. so i thought to myself, you know, you're going to sell a lot of liquor and beer. but when they are in the store, they all look at me and they said, are you general ky? i said, yes. can you sign your autograph for us? and i signed 60 or 70 autograph, and they didn't buy even a single can of beer. so i asked the guide or the
travel agency, why, you know, you stop here and don't let -- tell me before? and he said, it's the travel agency in germany. so those tourists when they come to see disneyland and somehow someone told them that nearby general ky has a liquor store. so they asked the travel agency back in germany to include one stop at my store so they can come in and have my, you know, autograph. >> let's go back to years ago. this picture here includes former president nixon, president chu. at time i assume you were vice president. >> yes. >> what are the circumstances of that picture?
henry kisse kissinger at the to. >> that's during official visit of president nixon to vietnam. >> why were you vice president? that story about why you were vice president seems to bother you to this day. >> well, as you know, i become premier 1965. and then i brought back a stability and unity. >> before you go any further, how did you become premier? >> well, you know, from -- after the military queue against -- >> 1963. >> then from november '63 to july '65 before i become
premier, during a period of time only about two years, there are five or six changes in vietnam. we begin with a military government. it last a few months, and then a mixed civilian and military government. and then few months later, go back again to military. but anyway, the last government in the south before i become premier was civilian government. that mean the chief of state, mr. shue was the civilian. the prime minister was a civilian. but i think because they belong to two different political
group. so they continued to fight each other as chief of state and as premier. so at the end, you know, how are we going to run the country with that kind of friction and fight? so one night they call up the armed forces council, which as commander of the air force, i am the member. so they call up on us to see them at the office of the prime minister. and they told us that they resign and handed the power back to the armed forces council. >> how many are on the armed forces council? how many generals?
>> about 12, yes. but the armed forces council, few hundred. we include the young officers commanding division and battalion. but anyway, that night, we spend a few hours until 2:00, 3:00 in the morning trying to persuade those two civilian leader that, you know, patch up your fight and stay. but they definitely, you know, didn't want to stay in power. so we have to accept their will. so the next day at the headquarters of the marine --
vietnamese marine, we heard everything about the members of the armed forces. and mr. tsu as the most senior officers of the army, he presided over the meeting. >> was he chief of staff of the army at the time? >> i think he was -- >> this is van tsu. >> he preside over the meeting. me, i sit among the so-called young turk known at the time, the marine and the navy. >> and this is in 1966 --
>> 1965. >> 11966 -- >> no. >> 19 -- ok. >> because we met that day to name the next prime minister. >> how many americans soldiers are in the country at that time? >> you're talking about few hundred thousand, i think, at least 200,000. >> the war was under way, then. >> yes, yes, yes. so i remember myself suggest to mr.tsu, general tsu, you know, becombill clinton the next prime minister. but for some reason, mr. tsu, you know, didn't accept the offer. so from there we go to the next and the next and the next, all
senior and high ranking in the army. but they all refuse. so a the end of the day and everything, you know, the armed forces didn't come to find someone, you know. so at one moment, he come to me and he said, hey, ky, we all discussed and we think you are the most qualified for the job. and anyway, no one there to accept that kind of, you know, responsibilities. so i said to him, if that is the will, the desire of all the members, then i accept it. and the next day, i become the
new premier. no, you know, still today there are some opinion of some people still speculate that i become premier after myself and a group of young officer stage a military coup. that's not true. i never staged a coup. they picked me up. i can say they forced me to become premier, maybe hoping that by that way they send me to the electric chair. >> at the time that you were premier for two years, will hoo were the american ambassadors to south vietnam? >> first -- before i become premier, it was general maxwell
taylor. and then after that, harry cobberlodge. >> what was your relationship to maxwell taylor, what did can you think of him? >> i didn't have much chance to talk or to be close with maxwell taylor, so i don't say. but i knew, you know, that he is one of a hero, of a american army. i only met him one tim time ando be frank, you know, i didn't keep a very good memories about him, because i think that day he -- after a general at that time he's the top leader of the
military, i think right after he staged a coup against the other general, so maxwell taylor was very angry, so the -- because the man before that he and westmoreland vinted us -- invite us, the armed forces military vietnamese for dinner at westmoreland house. and in that taylor explained to us that it's a necessity that south vietnam keep the unity and stability. he advised us no more coup. no more coup. and here just after, you know few weeks after that meeting, he staged a coup.
so i understand why taylor is very upset. so he call him asking him to see him, to meet him at the american embassy. but he for some reason didn't want to go. so he come to me and said, ok, ky, go to see the american ambassador. so i went to see maxwell taylor, and with me the general at that time army, another and the navy commander, so four of us representing him and armed forces council. we went to the u.s. embassy.
but i saw taylor come and open the door for us, you know and looked very angry. and he just said, ok, sit down. >> you said in your book he said immediately, sit down, not a greeting, not a hello, just sit down. >> just sit down. >> what was your reaction when -- >> of course, we sit down. but then we listen. so he very angry tone, you know. he said to me, to us, well,, you know, at the dinner few weeks ago, i ask you, i told you this and that, but now, you know, you still stage a coup. so he said something, you know, i waste my dinner. ok? so i and the other three
vietnamese fellow didn't know how to react to such -- you know, such tone. so my reaction was, i said to taylor, i said, well, mr. ambassador, i'm very poor man. i didn't have beef every day. so i remember, you know, the dinner with you. you gave me the best steak, you know, and i really appreciate that. so don't think that you waste your steak. i really, you know like it. but now come to the matter of my country. that's different thing. we do thing because we think it's good for our country.
and that's it. we end the discussion, and we said, good-bye, and go home. and then when i -- we report that attitude to the general, he also very angry, you know. he want to call a press conference right away and declare the ambassador persona non grata. but then some prends, i think american, i don't remember who come to me, and said to me that, you know, maxwell taylor is a army hero. now -- and we don't have many hero. so as a friend, i ask you to not
to destroy american hero. so i understand that. so i go back to him and to other fellow, i said, no, it's not the right way to do. but maybe in american sign, they see the program with taylor if he continue to stay as u.s. ambassador, you know, very difficult relationship between taylor and us. and so when i become premier, mr. henry cobberlodge come as new ambassador. >> what did you think of him? >> i can say, i like him. i like him very much. he's a true gentleman first, a
diplomat, and i think an american officer. he's the only that understand me, see very clear what kind of a man i am and what personality and i think he's very close friend, and i really respect and like him. >> you were born in san tay in the north. >> yes. >> have you been back either to san tay or hanoi or saigon since 1975? >> no, no. >> do you ever intend to go back? >> not intention, but desire and hope, yes, someday i will be back. >> are you an american citizen? >> not yet. >> are you going to become one? >> i'm thinking yes, maybe. >> why? >> i don't know. you know, my wife and myamily,
my son, they always pushed me to apply for american citizenship. you are old now. you are living here for 27 years. it is about time. so maybe, yeah. i think after 27 years, you know, if my mother country is vietnam, still vietnam, but my father country now is america. so to have dual identity is nothing wrong with that. >> let me read what you said in your book on page 332. you said, "if americans knew how to deal with other people, they could bring peace to the world.
alas, they have not learned enough yet. the true american feels that he is 100% welcome anywhere he goes. the way americans understand and treat other people is almost guarantees that the world will suffer more trouble. i say this not as an angry critic but as a sorrowful friend, as one who understands and admires america and americans, as one who has enjoyed american's great generous. i have been blessed by buddha but equally by america." go back over that and explain this more. more. "if americans knew how to deal with other people, they could bring peace to the world." >> that kind of feeling toward american, you know, i learn even when i was young officer, i remember when i went to maxwell air force base, you know, for --
what they call it? command and staff school. >> alabama. >> yeah. in that school we have other foreign students, all officers. >> and this was when, in the 1960's? >> 1959. >> 1959. >> so when you talk about, you know, a foreigner, and we talk about american, you know, or america, we come to the same conclusion, that more american give aid to people more that people don't like him. even at a very young age, i'm asked, it's not our feeling, but it's a fact, you know. and from that day, you know, i became to think a little more
about why is that? the more you come and with -- you know, the goodwill and good intention to help, but then still people don't like you. and then today, older and more experiences, understand better. i think because, one, people are jealous. but also right after world war ii ended and then the world was divide in two camp, one with russia and china, you know, the red empire, and this side, the so-called free world and the leader, of course, united
states, during what we call the cold war between the two, international communism, propaganda help a lot, especially among the third world, to formulate, you know, some kind of opinion about america and mostly unfavorable. and that's why most country in the third world, even those who receive, you know, aid, money from united states, don't like america. and the third reason, i think, america himself now is much better but, you know, back 50 years ago, very poor knowledge
about the outside america. so i think on that misunderstanding, not really from american, but also from the outside, from people like me, even when i become premier and a close ally with america, and at that time, i thought that i am the one that understand america and american, but then, you know, after 27 years, it's really a truly live in america daily and watching, i realize that 27 years ago, even as a prime minister, you know, a
country in a war with america, at that time i knew nothing about about the system, the society, the way of thinking, nothing. so i think that -- the lack of understanding from american and from other friends, that the key of why big and good intention to help other, people don't love you or like you. and i think today more than in the past, american will have a big and very difficult role to play because never before human
history that you have one country that become the sole and the true powerful, economic and military, america is the sole leader of the whole world today. so what kind of a responsibility, i think, you -- you have to learn more, not about the vietnamese, but about other people, afghanistan, saddam hussein, you know, friend or enemy, should help, you know, but through understanding so that you can act as a true leader. >> let me read some more. "people like tsu, who ended up being president, and you were the vice president in what,
1967? >> yes. >> -- "and hisó[ cronies" -- i take it from the book you didn't like him. >> yes, yes. because i -- well, first, you know, he pass away last year. >> in paris. >> no, here. >> oh, he did come back to this country. >> yeah. >> didn't he live in paris, know, for a while? >> in london. >> in london. >> first. >> and he did come here to die or did he -- >> no, you know, right after the fall of vietnam, few days before the fall, kill with the help of american went to taiwan. and then the american government send mrs. anna shinon to taiwan
to tell keel that he's not welcome in america. and they help him, you know, to go to england. so he live in england for, i think, for three or four years or five years. and then he move here, boston, boston. he just passed away a few months ago. so as asian, you know, to talk -- or to criticize of that man, person, for us is not the right thing. >> but you did criticize him in the book. >> i can answer your question, but please don't force me to go in length, you know, to talk
about him, what he did or his personality. but i can say that i'm the only one that understand and know him. he -- you know, every time talking with me, he always expressed the fear that if we do something against the will of america, you know, they will do overthrow and kill him. that's something he always scared about. >> can i stop you and just ask you, did the americans -- were they responsible for the assassination of zim? >> the assassination, i am not sure, but the coup against zim, yes. i know all those vietnamese general, you know. without the support from, yeah,
from america, they are to stage a coup against mr. zim. but now to kill the brother, i don't know, because, you know -- >> zim's mother. >> yeah, zim's mother. i don't know -- >> zim's brother. >> yeah, zim's brother. i don't know whether they or the vietnamese themselves took that decision. >> let me read, "people like tsu and his cronies were willing to accept the american point of view because it offered them a path to personal enrichment." >> yeah. >> did can he take money from the united states? >> no, it meant to be in power, you know.
they think they need the support of america. they can make money in that position. >> "but americans should understand that for every tsu, there are thousands more who expect to be treated as equals, even if they were not born in the united states, even if they are small and brown and eat strange foods and worship gods of whom americans have never heard." >> that mean that you treat the people as, you know, slave. >> did americans treat -- >> no. >> -- the vietnamese this way? >> i don't think so. you have a good intention, but again, as i said, you know, the lack of understanding, tradition, custom, and some of the time, because, you know, you are too impatient. so -- and then, you know, the
way you treat other -- especially the weak and small people gives them the impression that, you know, you treat them as a slave. >> let me ask -- >> which i know is not true. >> let me ask you about another person who has an image in this country that you write about in here, and you say it's the wrong image. there's the famous picture of general lone assassinating a vietcong on the streets of vietnam, and you say that's been unfair to him, that he was a good friend of yours and a good man. >> well, before i expressed my own opinion, i can tell today that even mr. adam, the one that took this picture -- >> eddie adams. >> yeah. i remember i think recently in
an interview when people ask his opinion again about the picture, and he expressed some kind of regret that -- and he said something like because he didn't know what happened before, what that vietcong, you know, do to vietnamese in saigon. >> what year was that picture taken? >> during the tet offensive. >> 1968. >> big tet -- 1968. ok? so -- >> and here's a picture you have in the book -- >> yeah, yeah. >> didn't he just die also? >> yes. >> he was here in town. >> in washington, about three years ago. very poor man. he come here and with help from the family, he opened very small vietnamese restaurant, very small one.
his wife cook and he serve. but he didn't make it because the place is too small. and he chose that. he come out clean and he -- and he, you know, as a chief of police, you know, for many years, very powerful man. >> chief of police in saigon. >> of vietnam. >> of whole vietnam. or south vietnam. >> yeah, yeah, chief of police. and i can't say the guy come out with no money at all. >> is all this hard for -- i mean, there are a million vietnamese people in the united states. is all of this hard for -- >> two million, yes. >> two million? >> yes. >> really? >> almost two million now. >> is it hard for you thinking back on the days when you were prime minister and vice president to do what you had to do in the last -- since 1975 in
this country? >> no. to be frank. well, maybe because i'm born that way, you know. when i become the commander in chief of the air force, you can ask them, i still treat, you know, people, you know, who served with me as a good friend. and then when they picked me as premier, i don't think i feel, you know, different. for me the position, responsibility, but that's all. so when i come here, you know, i become liquor owner, fisherman. i feel no difference, to be very
frank, no difference at all. and, you know, maybe that my secret to stay young. yeah, nothing bother me. >> let me read something you said in your book. you say "if you are different, i have some respect and interest in you. if you are average, i am not interested. ." >> yeah. what do you mean by that? i'll read it again. "for if you are different, i have some respect and interest in you. if you are average, i am not interested." >> yeah. well, anyone, you know, to be an average man, you know, is not the problem. but if you are different and then, you know, you belong to a
very small group of a leader, i think i'm born that way, you know. i didn't learn from anyone. i didn't spend time to mediate or to think about what i have to do and to become this and that. and that's why, again, i think the title "buddha's child," i like it. >> what does it mean? >> it means i come from buddha. my mother in desperation to have a boy went to the famous temple in north vietnam and prayed buddha to have a son. and then one year after, i was born. so my mother and my family, you
know, believe that i really the son of buddha. and also my association to write this book -- >> marvin wolf. >> yes, after listening to the story of my life, and one day he said to me, general, i think you have -- you really have the heart of buddha. so this title, you know, he himself or maybe with, you know, st. martin press suggest to me this title. >> and he'd been in vietnam, by the way, your co-author? >> yes, he was a vietnam veteran, you know, a reporter for a division.
but he was in vietnam, yes. >> you tell a story here. when i red it i thought you were trying to send a message as to why we didn't together win the vietnam war. it was a story of 1962 of the dirty 30, the raid, you led a raid into north vietnam. it's the sandals versus the shoe story. do you remember it? >> yeah, but -- i was a very first pilot, you know, to work closely with the c.i.a. at that time to cross the border at night, to drop our special team in north vietnam, that back in 1961. and then later, i was a very first -- i was the commander of the air force to lead our aircraft to cross the border to
bomb north vietnam. and also many time i asked, you know, president johnson and other people that to stop this war and to win this war. you have to go offensive. otherwise, if you continue to fight the war with so much limitations, you know, and always in the defensive, at the end of the day, you are going to lose. but for some reason, they never listen to me. oh, yes, one time the secretary said something to me like, if we
go north, you know, the chinese may come south. and then for the american, they don't want to see, you know, a second korean war. so we always on the defensive, with so much limitation. >> let me interrupt, only because we're running out of time. the sandals versus the shoe steer was when you dropped your south vietnamese people dressed in the black pajamas in the north. >> mm-hmm. >> c.i.a.-led, c.i.a.-generated, and you said the c.i.a. misread the fact when they dropped people in in the north they had shoes on, but the north vietnamese wore sandals. >> yeah, well, what we learn later is that, you know, under
the communist system, they recognized people and trained the people and have very tight and very effortly system to control, you know the people. so when a new foreigner infiltrate in their hamlet village, if you don't pay attention to the detail, you know, even your accent and the way you eat, you know, they will recognize right away that you are infiltrating, yes. >> unfortunately, we're without out of time. there's a lot more we weren't able to talk about. nguyen cao ky, the author, former prime minister of south vietnam. the book is
>> were on the national mall in washington at the international book festival. spin my name is rachel lamb and i go to the university of university of maryland. >> i am andrew and i also go to the university of maryland. >> did any of the authors make you interested in buying any of their books? >> we were interested in hearing the story behind the affordable care at supreme court against -- speeding anything recently that you would recommend?
>> we listen to marilyn robinson who talk beforehand and i'm interested in rating the home, great piece of fiction that relates to daily life as well as theological elements to it. >> yeah and in a recently red theme magical lantern which is about kind of the fall of the berlin wall and communism in eastern europe and it was a fascinating read even though it's a bit older. >> at any books you guys have read that had a big part in your life are inspired you in some way? >> yeah. the book is called keeping hazard edited by block and totally. is one of the best books i've read recently. >> i would say "the road to serfdom" was really interesting book for me and made me think a lot about government and the economy. i really enjoyed that one.